Experts are calling for every returned traveller who lands in Australia to be vaccinated against coronavirus as a condition of entry into hotel quarantine system following a spate of virus leaks.
Infectious diseases physician Paul Griffin is among a growing group of specialists who want the federal government to consider inoculating every person against coronavirus upon arrival amid fears they could become infected while isolating for 14 days.
A coronavirus testing room at one of Melbourne’s quarantine hotels.Credit:Jason South
“Complete containment is very challenging,” the microbiologist at Mater Health Services in Queensland said.
“There isn’t a perfect solution. We need to be innovative and this is something that will add another layer of protection.”
Associate Professor James Wood, a University of NSW vaccine modeller and member of the federal government’s Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, said vaccination on arrival could be beneficial, but only when a person was yet to be exposed to the virus.
“If somebody has been infected with the virus overseas and they are coming into hotel quarantine, I don’t think you can expect any real benefit from it,” he said.
“But we’ve had a couple of cases where people seem to have been infected in hotel quarantine and in those circumstances you could imagine that if that person had been vaccinated as soon they arrived it might have been beneficial for them.”
The concept also has the backing of Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett who said vaccinating all returned travellers might even prevent serious illness among those who eventually test positive to the virus while in isolation.
There have been at least 11 coronavirus leaks in hotel quarantine in Australia since December, a number of them are thought to have occurred when virus particles escaped the rooms of infected guests.
An outbreak of coronavirus from Melbourne’s government-run quarantine hotels in mid-2020 sparked Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19, which claimed over 800 lives and sent the city into lockdown for four months.
The new leak from hotel quarantine comes after the World Health Organisation updated its advice on the airborne transmission risk of COVID-19, which has increased pressure on Australian officials to update national guidelines on air quality to emphasise the threat of small airborne virus particles that linger in the air and can travel in poorly ventilated spaces.
Professor Bennett said important questions remain about how much and how quickly a single shot of vaccine can prevent transmission for somebody who might already have been incubating the virus when they arrived in Australia.
One Public Health England UK study of tens of thousands of people suggested one dose of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine could reduce household transmission of the virus by up to half from about 14 days after vaccination.
“The study suggested that even if somebody got the vaccine on the same day that they were infected with the virus, like when they first came into quarantine, it can still reduce the risk of them passing the virus onto others,” she said.
La Trobe University epidemiologist Hassan Vally said: “Every little thing that you do to reduce the risk of transmission in hotel quarantine, you’ve just got to do. I really can’t see any downside to it.”
However, Professor Fiona Russell, an adviser to the WHO on vaccines, who is based at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said other studies suggested there was no real protection at all from the first shot of the vaccine until after 20 days.
“Vaccinating just prior or [on] day one of hotel quarantine is unlikely to provide protection from hotel acquired infection,” she said.
However, Liberty Victoria president Julia Kretzenbacher cautioned against mandatory vaccination to enter hotel quarantine in Australia.
“Wherever possible we need to consider a person’s right to bodily integrity,” she said.
“But this is a global challenge that we need to face together and the sooner everyone is vaccinated the better.”
The federal government was contacted for comment
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